United States House of Representatives

On November 30, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act, a piece of legislation that would improve funding and requirements for medical research related to cancer and other medical diseases and conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, opioid addiction, and more.

Much like the Lautenberg Act passed earlier this year, the 21st Century Cures Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support on a vote of 392 to 26. Given the support of Congressional members from both parties, it is expected by many to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Obama before the end of December.

Funding the Cancer Moonshot Initiative

While there are many provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, one of the most notable effects of the bill is that it will give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $4.8 billion over the next ten years for medical research into cancer and other diseases. This funding will help continue many of the efforts currently being undertaken as part of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, which was started earlier this year and lead by Vice President Joe Biden.

With a new administration taking office in the White House in a little more than a month, there has been some worry about the future of the Cancer Moonshot. If the 21st Century Cures Act is passed and signed into law, much of that worry can be put on hold, knowing that the appropriate funding will be available to continue the work over the next decade. That’s not to say that all of the worry is gone. However, once the funding is in place, it will be much harder for a future president – including President-Elect Trump and whoever comes after him – to forestall the efforts of the Moonshot by vetoing the funding.

Granted, not all of the money being given to the NIH will go towards cancer research. Nonetheless, some of the other efforts being funded could positively benefit cancer researchers in complementary ways. For example, some of the funds will be funneled into the Personalized Medicine Initiative, which is a new approach to medicine that can benefit cancer patients as well as individuals who have other types of diseases or conditions.

Other Ways This Bill Helps Cancer Research

In addition to providing funding for Cancer Moonshot programs, the 21st Century Cures Act is updating how drug and medical device research and approvals will occur. Half a billion dollars is being given to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to approve drug and medical device patents in a more timely manner. This new, faster process could help more chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other experimental cancer medications and treatments become available to patients than are available today.

The new legislation provides an update to the FDA’s authority over “genetically targeted” drugs that are developed to treat rare diseases, such as mesothelioma. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies will be able to rely on data from previously approved applications to develop similar drugs, which should dramatically decrease the amount of time required to approve new medications. In addition, so-called “orphan drugs” will now be allowed to be used during observational studies for rare disease and conditions.

Finally, the bill also aims to make it easier for more agencies and organizations to use electronic medical records. While this is not specific to cancer patients, it will help those who have cancer by making it easier for researchers to identify commonalities and trends between different types of cancer that may not be noticed with older, paper-based records.

Overall, the 21st Century Cures Act is a massive update to existing laws related to medical research, and its implications are wide-ranging. It will affect far more than just cancer research, and it may be awhile before we know all of the results of this act. But all in all, it is intended by Congress to improve the state of medical care today – and that can only be a good thing.